"The attackers were like us ─ they were very young," said one of the eyewitnesses after the attack on Bacha Khan University. Reportedly between 18 and 25 years old, the students and attackers both belonged to the same age group.

Our children are the new front of the war. All our children; those who die in attacks on schools, and those that have grown up and attacked schools.

This is not the first time that children are being portrayed as warriors. It has happened before and is well preserved not only in books but also in nightmarish memories of entire generations. Many of our children were indoctrinated over decades to hate and take up arms as we sought 'strategic depth' against our neighbours.

We radicalised our children. We got them guns, trained them, and called them national heroes. We sang songs of national pride and glory.

Once they had learned how to shoot, and their target became us, we called them the enemy.

Also read: Bringing them home — Pakistan's child deradicalisation centre offers second chance

We created an us vs. them binary. In the meantime, when "they" managed somehow to kill some of "our" children, we created war heroes out of "our" children as well.

We presented "our" children as "martyrs", the epitome of national resilience, while all what they wanted was an education. All that has come down from one generation to the other is violence and the songs of national pride and glory.

The state may have forsaken the policy of strategic depth, but the depth does not seem to be through with us. It’s swallowing our children. We may have forgotten the past, but the past does not seem to have forgotten us. Our children are living it; they are the children of the past.

"Never again," we had shouted after APS

There was outrage, there was NAP (National Action Plan), and there was resolve to crush the enemy we identified as blood-thirsty beasts. Nothing could be further from the truth.

We are not dealing with blood-thirsty beasts, but ideologically motivated, deft militants. They use the most modern channels of communication and propaganda, vow to abolish western-styled democracy in the country, threaten to attack schools and colleges in order to put an end to the education system founded by Lord Macaulay. They have no qualms about declaring the whole nation kafir based on their understanding of Islam.

A teenager wearing a suicide vest and shooting at other teenagers is as much part of the problem as retired generals still boasting about their disastrous policies and justifying the massacres as collateral damage, and the journalists trying to shift the blame to some imaginary external enemies, and the intelligentsia and religious scholars hell bent on finding excuses for what, in our times, would be termed as plain savagery.

Also read: Charsadda and our history of doublespeak

On top of that, it’s a failure — an unmistakable failure — on part of the security forces that were invested with maximum possible authority under the constitution after the APS tragedy.

"Stop calling us brave for God’s sake. We are not brave," a Pakhtun mother broke down in tears in front of cameras after the attack on Bacha Khan University.

That is an outcry of a whole generation left in the lurch.

Children are not supposed to be brave. Are they? They are supposed to be vulnerable; they are supposed to be innocent. The loss of innocence is probably the most striking experience in a person’s life. So, what if a generation is robbed of its innocence?

A cursed past has come to the present to rob our future of innocence.

If there ever was any tragedy greater than the killing of children, it is the loss of innocence of our future.


A velvet glove

A velvet glove

The general didn’t have an easy task when he took over, but in retrospect, he managed it rather well.


Updated 24 May, 2022

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